The game of golf dates back hundreds of years and has spread to all corners of the globe. Today we're celebrating the ‘Game of Kings’ by taking you on the ultimate golfing tour to some of the finest courses on the planet. We are focusing on 15 classic courses that are open to the public, along with a few private ones which allow visitors.For many of us, golf is more than just a hobby; it’s a way to escape life's everyday hustle and bustle, connect with nature, and challenge ourselves mentally and physically. But where did this celebrated sport come from and what makes the game so unique (and beloved)?
- It’s fun and social; one of the few sports where you can play and have conversations simultaneously.
- It’s a great source of low-impact exercise - several studies have proven the health benefits of walking, so ditch the golf cart.
- It’s always a different challenge as no two courses (or the weather during play) are the same.
- You get to spend your day outside in ‘intentionally designed’ nature, with manicured landscapes melding with the surrounding natural landscape.
- Finally, there’s often a clubhouse at the end to enjoy a meal or an adult beverage and spend some time unwinding.
The Origins of Golf
The game’s origins can be traced back to the 15th century on the east coast of Scotland, in an area close to the magnificent capital city of Edinburgh (which is featured in our popular Scenic Walks Around the World’s Most Beautiful Cities article). It began with people hitting pebbles with a stick over grass and sand dunes to reach a target, such as a tree or large rock.
By 1457, it had become so popular that when men chose to play golf in place of their military training obligations, King James II of Scotland banned the game! However, the ban didn’t have much effect because people played anyway. In 1502, James IV lifted the ban and even paid 14 shillings “for clubs from the bower at Saint Johnston” – the first recorded purchase of golf equipment.
15 of the Best Scenic Golf Courses Around the World
From the rolling hills of Scotland to the sun-kissed fairways of Hawaii, these brilliant golf courses are the epitome of elegance, beauty, creativity and challenge. Imagine teeing off against a backdrop of crystal clear waters or playing on holes designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. The golf courses list has been carefully chosen for their unique features, exceptional standards and accessibility, making them the perfect destination for golfers seeking a next-level experience.
Andrews Links Old Course - St. Andrews, Scotland, UK
There’s no better place to hit off the tour than at St Andrews Links in Scotland, the oldest golf course in the world. St. Andrews Links dates back to the 12th century when King David I declared the links as common ground belonging to the townspeople of St. Andrews. The people used it to play their beloved game of golf throughout the 1400s. However, it wasn’t until 1552 when Archbishop Hamilton signed an official charter granting the people of St. Andrews the right to play golf on the Links that St. Andrews became the official ‘home of golf’.
Like the game itself, St Andrew’s Links has significantly evolved over the years. Today, the Links is home to seven public courses, including the original old course with the famous "Hells Bunker" (pictured above). It also has a golf academy, three clubhouses and four shops. It’s a golfer’s paradise! In fact, St. Andrews Links is considered the pilgrimage to golf Mecca for especially passionate devotees of the sport. If that’s you, be sure to tick the home of golf off your bucket list to experience a round where it all began.
Rates: Golf packages across all seven courses range from £19 to £320.
Sand Hollow Resort Championship Course - Utah, USA
There are so many fantastic and creatively-designed golf courses in America that it’s hard to pin down a few.
Sand Hollow’s championship course is one of our favorites due to its impeccably designed fairways and seamless blending into the surrounding environment. It’s carved into the red rocks of the southwest desert landscape of Utah– the scenery alone is worth the visit. You may find yourself taking aim at more photo ops than golf balls! Non-members can easily book a round of golf on their website.
Rates: Depending on the tee time, prices range from US $105 - $220.
Lofoten Links - Norway, Scandinavia
Lofoten Links embodies everything great about Norway. Located on the far northern island of Gimsøy, it is the northernmost golf course in the world. In the summer months, Norway is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun due to its 24/7 exposure to daylight (you can play a round at any time…including midnight), and from August to October you can play under the Northern Lights – both experiences guaranteed to make your visit to Lofoten Links unforgettable. If that’s not a golfer’s bucket-list item, we don’t know what is.
In addition to the spectacle in the skies, the landscape and design of this course are next-level. Flanked by dramatic snow-capped mountains, the course lies on the coast between granite rock and white sandy beaches. In the distance, a small fishing village with characteristic red shacks adds to the quintessentially Norwegian atmosphere. We advise you to book ahead for the Golf and Northern Lights season. You cannot beat it.
Rates: Various packages starting at two nights of unlimited/round-the-clock golf NOK 4.470 p.p.
Punta Espada - Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
For an extreme change of scenery, let’s venture to the Caribbean. Here, the beautiful island nation of the Dominican Republic boasts some of the finest golf courses in the Caribbean (if not the world); the best of which is Punta Espada on the impossibly gorgeous Punta Cana Coast facing the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Jack Nicklaus signature-designed course only opened in 2006 but is already ranked as one of the top courses in the world. The fairways meet sandy beaches, tropical patches of jungle and clear water lagoons in perfect harmony with nature. Eight holes play along the sea with immaculate greens surrounded by the sparkling waters of the Caribbean.
If you want to indulge in a luxury Caribbean holiday, this is your course. Punta Espada has a range of accommodations and golf package options, including Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa, a beachfront paradise.
Rates: 18 holes starting at US $240 for afternoon play.
New South Wales Golf Club - Sydney, Australia
Australia has many world-class golf courses, including Royal Melbourne and The Australian Golf Club, but our favorite is New South Wales Golf Club. Its stunning location on the rugged cliffs alongside the Pacific Ocean, the exquisitely-designed Par 72 course, and the area’s historical significance give it that extra boost above the others for a truly amazing experience. Although NSW is a private club, they provide limited weekday guest access. However, as it's a challenging golf course, a maximum handicap of 27 for men and 36 for women is required.
Overseas visitors will also get a taste of Sydney’s colorful history as the golf club overlooks Botany Bay, where in 1770, Captain James Cook first sailed into Australia on the H.M.S. Endeavour. Some intriguing historical sites and lovely beaches are nearby, and downtown and Sydney Harbour are only a half-hour drive away.
After 18 holes, you can enjoy a well-earned drink in the traditionally-designed clubhouse with sweeping views of Botany Bay National Park, Sydney city skyline and the vast expanse of the blue Pacific Ocean.
Rates: You must make a booking inquiry.
Club de Golf Alcanada - Mallorca, Spain
Club de Golf Alcanada is the finest course on the Mediterranean and one of the most stunning in the world. The only coastal golf course on the Spanish island of Mallorca, Alcanada was designed by world-famous golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. He was commissioned to blend a course into the natural landscape to maintain the typical Majorcan island terrain, and he didn’t disappoint.
We love this course so much: from the stone-built Spanish Mission-style clubhouse to the olive and pine trees, beehives and even donkeys, everything about Alcanada embodies the Mediterranean. Then, there’s the beautiful sea view from almost every hole of the course. In addition, they have admirable sustainability practices in place.
Arguably the best feature, however, is the halfway bar (pictured) looking over the picturesque island and lighthouse between the 9th and 10th holes. If you need a break, you can enjoy some tapas and a few glasses of vino alfresco-style while staring over the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. But beware, throwing in the towel before the back nine is easy!
Rates: 18 holes starting from 110 €. 9-hole course from 66 €. Book ahead online.
Fuji Course - Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
The Fuji Course is one of the most scenic courses in Japan. It’s also one of the few that the public can play at, as most of the best golf courses are strictly for private members only. As the name and above photo indicate, the course is located at the foot of the world-famous Mount Fuji. Besides the spectacular views this offers, the course is not too far away from the incredible metropolis of Tokyo, making it easy to do a day trip if you’re visiting the iconic city.
Dating back to 1935, the Fuji Course is great for amateurs as it’s relatively flat, except for the down-grain section from Mount Fuji, where the green speeds up. The fairways are separated by Japanese red pine and you’ll encounter areas of impeccably manicured Japanese gardens. After 18 holes, you can enjoy some fine Japanese cuisine on the deck overlooking the course, or you can relax your muscles and mind by bathing in their hot spring, known as an onsen in Japan.
Rates: 18 holes on a weekday starting at 11,800 yen
The Plantation Course - Hawaii, USA
We’re crossing into the middle of the Pacific now to say “aloha” from the famous Plantation Course on Maui. Consistently ranked as the number one course in Hawaii, The Plantation Course is favored by the United States Golf Association.
The course slopes down from the West Maui Mountains, providing sweeping ocean views from almost every hole. Many first-time players here are known to hit their biggest drives ever on the aggressive sloping 18th fairway. The par 73 course accommodates pros and amateurs with its expansive fairways and generous greens.
It’s no wonder that every January, the Plantation Course hosts the PGA TOUR Sentry Tournament Players Championship. The course has seen the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Jordan Spieth, to name a few. But it’s not only the pros who get to grace this course; you can too. Plus if you’d like someone else to do the heavy lifting for you, they've partnered up with Troon Golf Vacations who can plan your perfect Maui golf trip.
Rates: 18 holes standard rate – US $459
Cape Kidnappers - Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This one’s a bit of a lesser-known gem, although not for long. Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand only opened in 2004 but is already being recognized as one of the best courses in New Zealand, if not the world. Atop towering cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean, Cape Kidnappers is a textbook example of a golf course designed to work in perfect harmony with the landscape. Six of the holes play right alongside these massive cliffs, while the inland holes have a charm of their own weaving through farmland, forest and marshes.
Besides the one-of-a-kind course, Cape Kidnappers has one of the most unique accommodation options at “The Farm” (featured in our Unique Lodging Experiences Around the World blog). Another factor that garners Cape Kidnappers a spot on this list is that Hawkes Bay is an excellent wine region, producing some of New Zealand’s best Bordeaux-style Syrah and full-bodied Chardonnays. Golf, wine and farm stays…what’s not to love?
Rates: 9 holes starting at NZ $449.00 + GST
The Lost City - Sun City, South Africa
The Lost City Golf Course in the North West Province of South Africa is a part of Sun City, an extensive resort and casino also known as the Palace of the Lost City. The luxury palace is an impressive building isolated on an extinct volcanic site in the middle of the South African bush, the entire property emanating a grand and ancient air.
The Lost City country club (pictured with the palace in the background) has to be the best valley club ever to enjoy an after-round drink while looking out over the course and the African bushveld. The desert-style golf course is a series of undulating greens amidst rocky terrain, a green lake and water features. To remind you that you’re in Africa, the 13th hole even has crocodiles that measure over two meters long!
It’s that wildness that places this course on the list – there really is nothing else like it. And if that’s not enough, right on the Lost City’s doorstep is the Pilanesberg National Park, where you can book a wildlife safari and see the Big Five in their natural habitat. Take us there now!
Rates: 18 holes for non-residents R950. Sun City Resort day pass from R395 per person
Merapi Golf - Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Merapi Golf sits 800 meters above sea level, providing an ideal climate for the otherwise hot and humid weather that Indonesia is known for. The course is designed by Thompson Perret, Asia-Pacific’s most renowned golf architect. The par 72 course of 6,370 meters is a masterpiece of design, with each hole carefully constructed and distinctly different from the others. It’s fantastically fortunate for world travelers that Merapi is open to the public.
We also love Merapi for its location in the hinterland of Yogyakarta and the Indian Ocean. The area is divine, and the course melds perfectly with the hilly landscape, volcanic rocks and lush rainforest. But what makes it truly scenic is the backdrop of Mount Merapi, an active volcano. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll see smoke billowing from its peak.
Mount Merapi means “Fire Mountain”, which is fitting because it’s the most active volcano on the planet, having erupted in 2006, 2010 and 2018... so, do the math, and it could be due for another blast! (And if it does happen to pop its top while you’re in the middle of a round, forget finishing the back nine!)
Rates: Must inquire about rates at firstname.lastname@example.org
Banff Springs Golf Course - Banff, Canada
Banff Springs Golf Course is in one of the most beautiful nature reserves and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Banff National Park in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. While this is an exclusive private club, guests staying at the course’s famous Fairmont Banff Springs resort can tee up (for a fee of course). You probably have seen photos of the iconic resort in a pine forest surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.
The course is both magnificent and challenging with breathtaking views in every direction. The surrounding mountains even create optical illusions to challenge you that much further. They have an excellent service where up to four friends can book a Mountain View Range Experience, a private space with seating, tables, a fire pit, music and a view to die for. You can order food and drinks while practicing putting on a target green, bunker practice and a grass-hitting area. Basically, you have yourself a little golf party!
Rates: You must book a tee time to get rates.
Ile Aux Cerfs Golf Club - Trou D'eau Douce, Mauritius
Now how many golf courses do you know of that have their own island? Ile Aux Cerfs Golf Club has precisely that; an entire island separated by a clear-water lagoon from mainland Mauritius, a subtropical island country off the south-eastern coast of Africa. The course is only reachable by a golf shuttle boat that takes you from a jetty off the east coast, or by a scenic helicopter flight. Besides the bunkers meeting the beach, the wonderfully designed course snakes its way across the island through tropical patches of forest, rocky volcanic outcrops, gullies and lakes. All 19 holes (yes, random) have ocean or lagoon views.
The course got a complete upgrade in 2013 and now provides a much better golfing experience and is more accessible for players of all skill levels. They also have an excellent junior golf academy and have partnered with local resorts, making it a great family option.
Rates: 19 holes starting at MUR 5400 per person, juniors MUR 4000 per person
Monte Carlo Golf Club - Monte Carlo, Monaco
How does playing golf atop a mountain overlooking Monte Carlo and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea sound? You can do just that at Monte Carlo Golf Club, Monaco’s most scenic country club. The historic, century-old Riviera golf course sits almost a kilometer above the sea, with spectacular views. Even better, the mountain golf is open to the public by reservation seven days a week.
The golf course is Par 71 of 18 holes stretching over 6,004m and offers players varied difficulties. There are curved and crested fairways and cliffside greens to navigate - overshoot the green and there’s no retrieving the ball (unless you fish it out of the Mediterranean in Monte Carlo Port 900 m below). The clubhouse wins top marks for an after-round meal and drinks, offering spectacular views of the course, Monte Carlo below and the magnificent Mediterranean beyond.
Rates: 18 holes starting at 140 €
Pebble Beach Golf Links - California, USA
Saving the best for last, this list would not be complete without the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula. Of all the famed courses in the U.S., including National Golf Links of America, California Golf Club and Ponte Vedra Beach, none is more prominent than Pebble Beach Golf Links. Pebble Beach is rated as the number one public course in the USA, as is evidenced by Pebble Beach hosting its sixth U.S. Open in 2019 (with more in the future, we suspect).
If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.
~ Jack Nicklaus, 18-Time Major Champion
While public, this course is designed for highly-skilled golfers navigating deep bunkers, angled greens, and consistent undulating terrain. Medium-sized greens hug the coastal dunes, rugged rocks and crashing surf on this magnificent ocean course south of San Francisco. Pebble Beach is as challenging as it is beautiful, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. Golf Digest calls it the “greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf”. Do yourself a favor; if you find yourself in Carmel by the Sea in California, tee up at the famous Cypress Point.
Rates: Must make a reservation for rates
Want to build a travel-friendly lifestyle that enables you to visit amazing places like these without all the hassles of crowded flights and complex transfers? Take a peek at what Storylines has to offer (including on-ship golfing practice to keep your game in top form) here.